Tuesday, May 13, 2014

I Hate Being A Patriots Fan On Draft Day

Look at that handsome devil, all ready to ruin the last few years of Tom Brady's career.
By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin)

Being a Patriots fan on Draft Day is a rather interesting experience. In my many years of being a Patriots fan, there have really only been two drafts that I left feeling genuinely fired up about who they ended up with. In 2011, they took Nate Solder in the first round (which meant that Matt Light would quickly be on his way out - this brought me great joy, as I've held a grudge against Light ever since he performed dismally in the 2007 Super Bowl) and picked up Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen in the second and third rounds (nothing against BenJarvus Green-Ellis, but he didn't/doesn't have a very high ceiling). And the next year, they traded up twice to grab both Chandler Jones and Donta Hightower in the first round to shore up a then-abysmal defense (it's only now slightly less abysmal, but at least they're making progress).

Most years, the Patriots have an infuriating draft.

Conceptually, I understand the idea of constantly trading down. Draft picks are basically just lottery tickets - nobody is any better or worse than anyone else at identifying future stars than anyone else (some may actually be marginally better than others, but generally not to the degree that you can say Team X drafts better than Team Y and THAT'S THAT). So, that being the case, your best bet is just to accumulate as many draft picks as you can. The way to do that is trade down, acquiring two (or more) slightly less valuable picks for your one. I get that. And I'm on board with it.

The only issue is, in the years that I want them to just stand pat and draft the guy that various rumors have them targeting, they trade down. For example, in 2009, the Patriots started in the 23rd draft slot, but they traded down to No. 26, and then traded down again to No. 41. The 23rd pick that year was Michael Oher. The 26th pick was Clay Matthews. Other players that were drafted between No. 23 and No. 40 include Vontae Davis, Hakeem Nicks, Kenny Britt, James Laurinaitis, and Rey Maualuga. The Patriots ended up with Darius Butler, who they cut after two seasons.

Other times, when I desperately want the Patriots to trade down, they stand pat and draft someone, well, rather questionable. This year, the Patriots sat No. 29 with Teddy Bridgewater (only the best quarterback available in the draft) still on the board. There were a number of teams clamoring to trade back into the first round in order to scoop up Bridgewater. Do you know how I know this? Because Minnesota traded back into the first round in order to scoop up Bridgewater. Did the Patriots take this opportunity to trade back, possibly taking advantage of a team desperate for a quarterback, and acquire a few future assets? Nope. Did they scoop up a potential blue-chip skill position player on offense (Washington Tight End Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, USC Wide Receiver Marquise Lee, and Vanderbilt Wide Receiver Jordan Matthews were all on the board), which they desperately need? Nope. They took... Dominique Easley (Defensive Tackle from Florida, generally considered to be a potentially top-10 talent, but probably only a second- or third-round value because of his two (not one, but *TWO*) torn ACL's over the last three years.

(About the ACLs - I'm not worried, it's not like the Patriots defense had any problems with injuries last year or anything. Please excuse me while I go puke blood.)

Then the second round rolls around. The Patriots have the 62nd pick. Do they this time look to add a skill player on offense, like LSU Wide Receiver Jarvis Landry or Oregon Wide Receiver Josh Huff? Nope. Do they play it safe, take another defensive lineman (eight outside linebackers, defensive ends, and defensive tackles came off the board over the next 30 picks, including Louis Nix from Notre Dame, another potential top-10 talent), in case Easley's knees don't hold up? Nope. They took... Jimmy Garoppolo.... Quarterback from.... Eastern Illinois.

(I can't find a GIF or video of me throwing my arms into the air in the world's most extreme exasperation, so just imagine something along those lines.)

The Patriots spent a scarce resource on what will be the team's THIRD quarterback when the team has pressing needs at a number of other positions (defensive line depth, wide receiver, tight end, guard, center). This wouldn't be a problem, except for the fact that Touchdown Tom Brady turns 37 this year and they might want to try to win a Super Bowl before he retires.

Are you planning for the future, after Touchdown Tom is gone? Awesome. Except for that whole part where you already have a backup quarterback who is generally well-regarded around the league. Are you planning for the future, after Touchdown Tom is gone, and Ryan Mallett leaves in free agency (his contract expires after this season)? Awesome. Except for that whole part where you could just stand pat with Mallett this year and draft a quarterback next year. (The super-awesome bonus? Next year's quarterback class is LOADED - Marcus Mariotta and Jameis Winston are likely two of the top five picks, and Baylor's Bryce Petty, UCLA's Brett Hundley, Oregon State's Sean Mannion, and whatever other quarterbacks emerge over the next year - much in the way Blake Bortles came out of nowhere - will all be available next year.) And here's my real question - if you were planning on taking a quarterback regardless (which it seems like they were), why wouldn't you just take Teddy Bridgewater when he was on the board in the first round? You know, the best quarterback in the draft? That guy?

It really drives me nuts. They're going to carry three quarterbacks this season, because apparently they have no plans to trade Ryan Mallett. Even if they wanted to, it wouldn't be worth it because (a) his value has been driven down by the fact that they have three quarterbacks, so everyone knows they can buy low, and (b) there's no way it can help this year because the draft is over and nobody is going to trade a player of consequence for a backup quarterback who has thrown four passes in three seasons. At this point they have no choice but to let Mallett walk at the end of the season. Garoppolo will take over as the Patriots' backup. A pundits have speculated that Garoppolo could be flipped in the future for a draft pick, which is also confusing - what team is going to trade a first- or second- round pick for a quarterback who hasn't played? And if you trade him for a third-round pick or worse, that's about as obvious as you can get that you're losing value (considering he himself was a second-rounder). Furthermore, if you *do* get a high pick for him, it probably means that he got playing time. Which probably means that Tom Brady got injured. Which probably means that the team is screwed. It's really a lose-lose-lose situation all the way around.

Long story short - the Patriots are (supposedly) trying to win a Super Bowl before Tom Brady retires and they go through a re-building phase. And they spend a second-round pick on a third-string quarterback. You figure it out.

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